Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil

As you know I am at the front now and very happy that I am.  I have been under shell and rifle fire for some time.  It gets pretty warm at times and you don’t know whether you will see night or not.  The bullets come fast and often, but let them come, the more the merrier; for the sooner we get through with them the sooner we will get back to dear old Canada, the land where the maple leaf grows, and the Union Jack waves.  We are fighting to save the good old flag, that she might ever wave.

There is very little farming here but some very near the trenches not more than a mile away.  But of late they have abandoned farming so close, owing to numerous snipers.  At any time your life is none too safe but two can play at the game, and we must win, we are Jack Canucks. Sometimes we cannot hear for the noise of the big guns.  It is awful to see the destruction they cause, but a very pretty sight to witness at night if you care to go out of your trench. It reminds me of 24th of May celebrations in old Canada.  They say war is hell and it seems like it, but we have our fun.

Private Elgin Sears to his uncle Mr. Griffin in South Norwich, from somewhere in France, written 21 October 1915, printed in the Norwich Gazette, 2 December 1915

Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil tells the story of three rural townships in southern Ontario during the First World War. Using letters, newspapers, memoirs, and other local sources, the authors reveal how people understood home front and overseas experiences at the time, and how the war transformed individual lives, families, and communities in North Norwich, South Norwich, and East Oxford. Stitching the far-reaching effects of the war into the fabric of local life, this book takes the reader on a chronological journey, through the eyes of the men and women who lived through the Great War – from the soldier in the muddy trenches of the Western Front, to the woman sitting in her kitchen knitting socks for him, the volunteer raising money for him, the farmer working long days in the fields to feed him, and the child anxiously awaiting his return. These are stories of tragedy, heartbreak and loss, but also of courage, kindness, volunteerism, and perseverance.


Jennifer Arthur-Lackenbauer, M.Sc., is a freelance editor and research consultant with True North Consulting.

Peter Kikkert, Ph.D., is the Irving Shipbuilding Chair in Arctic Policy at St. Francis Xavier University.

Whitney Lackenbauer, Ph.D., is Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North and Professor in the School for the Study of Canada at Trent University.


Jennifer Arthur-Lackenbauer, Peter Kikkert, and P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil: Three Rural Townships and the Great War (Norwich: Norwich and District Museum and Archives / South Norwich Historical Society, 2018). xviii, 431 pp.

Table of Contents

1     “The Very Garden of Ontario”:An Historical Tour of the Townships in 1914

2     “A call to uphold the honor and integrity of the Empire we love”:The Townships Go to War

3     “It is savage warfare with the most modern of civilized inventions added”: The War Overseas, 1915

4     “A Call Again Rings Forth…Will You Let it Go Unanswered?” Mobilizing the Home Front, 1915-1916

5     “It was blood and fire, a regular hell on earth”: Summer 1916

6     “We are beginning to grow weary of the constant strain…”: The Somme’s Impact at Home and Abroad

7     “We have gone through the whole gamut of human experience”: The Battle of Vimy Ridge

8     “The only question is men, money and material”: Conscription and the War Effort, May- October 1917

9     “We cannot hide from ourselves the fact that this will be the most critical period of the war”: Passchendaele and the Khaki Election, October-December 1917

10   “War is a great devouring machine and it is hard to tell when it will be satisfied”: January-July 1918

11 “Many Deaths – at Home and on the Field of Battle”: The Hundred Days, Influenza, and the End of the War

12 “Peace has once more spread its wings over our land”: Afterword

Further Reading and Research

To Purchase

To purchase a print copy of Familiar Fields to Foreign Soil ($30), with all proceeds going to the local historical societies, please contact Gail Lewis at the South Norwich Historical Society at glewis@execulink.com or order via the South Norwich Historical Society Facebook page.

A low-resolution e-book is also available here.

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